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November 2, 2018                                                              
(615) 415-4086

       State law expressly forbids Republican candidate’s business relationships with government

NASHVILLE, TN — State Representative John Ray Clemmons (Dist. 55) said today that Republican gubernatorial nominee Bill Lee would break the law, if elected governor, if he does not end all of The
Lee Company’s contracts with state and local governments in Tennessee or sell his company. 

Clemmons called on Bill Lee, the sole owner of The Lee Company, to do the following before election day:

•     immediately, fully disclose the existence of any and all local and state government contracts                                    with The Lee Company, as well as the revenue generated by each;

•     promise Tennessee voters and taxpayers that he will either sell all of his controlling shares in                                   The  Lee  Company, OR end all local and state government contracts, as well as any economic                               development incentives, if elected governor.

Just as Bill Lee has failed to present any plan to solve Tennessee’s rural health care and opioid crisis, he has clearly failed to think through the impact that his potential public role and duties would have on his private company and fiscal duties to it – even after 18 months of campaigning. This raises serious questions about Bill Lee’s business acumen and what his priorities would be as governor – the people’s interests or his own.

“State law is clear and unambiguous on the existence of a conflict of interest under these circumstances. Under no scenario can Bill Lee simultaneously serve as governor and the sole owner of a company making money off of any government contract in this state,” Clemmons said. “To avoid impropriety, Mr. Lee would have to either sell his company or end every single contract with any public entity in this state. Otherwise, you would have government officials across the state worried about keeping the governor happy and any possible repercussions to their town or school systems that would result from not using The Lee Company’s services.”

“It’s no wonder Bill Lee supports the privatization efforts of the current administration. He’s making a fortune off the backs of taxpayers and apparently thinks he can squeeze even more out of us if he’s elected governor,” Clemmons added. “It’s clear why he hasn’t been fully honest with Tennessee voters, but it’s time for Lee to lay all of his cards on the table.”

TCA 12-4-101(a) states, in part: “It is unlawful for any officer, … or other person whose duty it is to vote for, let out, overlook, or in any manner to superintend any work or any contract in which any municipal corporation, county, state, development district, utility district, human resource agency, or other political subdivision created by statute shall or may be interested, to be directly interested in any such contract. ‘Directly interested’ means any contract with the official personally or with any business in which the official is the sole proprietor, a partner, or the person having the controlling interest. ‘Controlling interest’ includes the individual with the ownership or control of the largest number of outstanding shares owned by any single individual or corporation.”

A 1981 Attorney General’s Opinion (No. 81-72, 2/2/1981) spoke to the intended scope of this law.  In the opinion, the Attorney General determined that then-Gov. Lamar Alexander could not legally serve as chairman of a nonprofit board that contracted with a state department because of the conflict the position would create. Specifically, the opinion said that, “if a state official has a duty to let out, overlook, or in any manner superintend a contract and has a direct or indirect interest in that contract in his private role, he has a prohibited conflict of interest.” ] Tennessee Attorney General William M. Leach declared that, “as Governor, Alexander’s service as chair of the non-profit board was legally prohibited because the Governor — or a commissioner serving at the Governor’s pleasure — ultimately approves all proposals, superintends all awards, and overlooks their subsequent execution, and because the chairman of a non-profit corporation is interested in the corporation’s contractual relationships.” 

As the Chairman and sole shareholder of The Lee Company, Bill Lee has a direct financial interest in the Company’s contractual relationships with the state of Tennessee and local governments that is more significant than Governor Alexander’s non-pecuniary interest in a non-profit corporation’s contracts. As such, Lee’s 100 percent ownership of The Lee Company carries with it a much more significant risk of impropriety, and of the appearance of impropriety, than then-Governor Alexander’s service on a non-profit board.

“Bill Lee must come clean with voters if he wants to salvage any hint of ethical credibility. Tennesseans deserve to be fully informed before Election Day and fully understand what The Lee Company’s state and local contracts look like and what they are worth,” Clemmons said.